DALLAS – As the son of Mexican-American immigrants living in a predominantly Spanish-speaking, low-income community of Oak Cliff, Texas, Adan Gonzalez, was not supposed to attend Georgetown University.
He was not supposed to earn a Master’s in Education Policy and Management from Harvard.
He was not supposed to combat the very system that had attempted to limit him and, as Gonzalez puts it, “was not created for the most vulnerable.”
He simply couldn’t. Not after seeing his father shot when he was a child. With his father disabled, he knew he needed to quickly grow up and out of the status quo.
Gonzalez, now 24, began selling
In hopes that an education would give him and his family a better life, he sat on the curb outside a local McDonald’s, using a borrowed laptop and hacked Wi-Fi access, to write an application for the
It’s a decision that changed his life.
Adan The Scholar
Along with the 251 other students selected out of more than 70,000 applicants from across the country, Gonzalez traveled to Atlanta, Ga., for the
The weekend was filled with bonding between Scholars and interviews to determine who would receive additional scholarship funds.
“Just going to Atlanta was a scholarship in itself,” Gonzalez says. “It opened up my mind and my eyes to something greater than myself.”
Beyond exposure to new people and ideas, the weekend provided a network of encouragement. As Gonzalez shared his story and aspirations, one interviewer took off his tie and offered it to Gonzalez.
Gonzalez’s eyes brim with emotion as he remembers the interviewer’s words: “I give this to you because I believe in you.”
“I think a lot of times in my life, people have believed in me before I believed in myself,” Gonzalez reflects.
He recalls flying to Georgetown in Washington, D.C., carrying his belongings in trash bags. He moved into a dorm room the size of his apartment in Texas where his family of six lived.
As soon as he arrived on campus, a Georgetown upperclassmen and fellow
Adan The Disruptor
“I discovered how education granted me my freedom,” Gonzalez continues. “It gave me a responsibility to make sure that as I'm progressing, people are coming up with me.
“I didn’t know much… but what I did know? I knew a community. I knew people who were desperate for an opportunity to show their potential.”
As Gonzalez worked to keep up with his academics, he also dedicated himself to supporting those back home. During his sophomore year, he began an annual luggage collection drive so future college-bound students from his hometown wouldn’t have to arrive at school toting trash bags, as he’d done.
But he knew kids in his community needed more than luggage. They needed access to educational opportunities like those he was experiencing. They needed to become a network of scholars.
Thus, Puede Network was born. Inspired by the
Puede Network prepares kids of all ages for higher education, developing them into leaders and community stewards. To be a scholar, students must participate in group activities – sports, music and art – as well as conduct community service. They are also required to read.
With this mental autonomy, Gonzalez hopes his students can disrupt the systems that often limit them. “Being disruptive allows each individual to own their own identity,” he explains. “To be themselves – to not follow the pattern, to not accept the status quo.”
Gonzalez continues, “I've learned the most when I'm uncomfortable. If I'm uncomfortable in circles that are not like the hood, I have to bring the hood to them. It's time to start having a dialogue and connect communities and hearts. Once you connect the heart, you connect the mind… and then we can start changing the world.”
Adan the Community Leader
To change the world, Gonzalez wants to start at home.
He spends much of his days teaching in the same elementary school classroom where he once sat as a student. The room is now full of sparkling new desks and digital tablets that he personally purchased for his students.
“What keeps me going is that I'm walking the same streets I grew up in. I'm walking the same halls where I went to school,” Gonzalez says. “It's recognizing the talent that my community has.”
He undoes his tie, holding it with an outstretched arm.
“This is what someone did for me and that's what I'll do. I'll hand them my tie because someone believed in me when I didn’t even know what I was about to go into.
“That's what Puede Network is about, believing in each other, believing in community and believing in our future. So, si se puede, yes, we can.”